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What is White Bronze?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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White bronze is a metal that serves two common purposes. It is actually not bronze, but an alloy of varying amounts of copper, tin, and zinc. It is commonly used in jewelry as a substitute for nickel, and was used many years ago as a material for grave markers. Though it is no longer used for the second purpose, it was well-suited to that application at the time.

For jewelry, white bronze is an ideal substitute for nickel and silver because of its appearance and chemical properties. It is nonmagnetic, very smooth, and virtually nonporous. It is also highly resistant to corrosion and breakdown. It also offers one advantage that silver does not, namely, that it will not tarnish.

There are only certain situations in which white bronze can substitute for silver, however. It is not used to replace silver in jewelry made only of silver. Instead, it is used as a buffer between a base metal and gold plating in gold-plated jewelry. Electroplating is used to apply the metal in these situations. It can also be used as an undercoat in silver-plated jewelry.

Despite being inexpensive, white bronze has a very attractive appearance, meaning that in certain jewelry, it can be used as the top coat. When used as an interior barrier layer, it usually has a thickness of about 0.000039 inches to 0.0001 inches (1 to 3 microns). This is an extremely thin layer, about 1/100th the thickness of a human hair. The need to substitute white bronze for nickel, even in light of the minute amount of material used, comes from concerns about the effect of nickel on the environment.

From the 1870s through the 1910s, this metal was used as a raw material for grave markers by certain manufacturers. This type was mostly zinc, rather than the mainly tin alloy used in jewelry. It was called white bronze as a marketing ploy to make it sound more attractive. Grave markers made of this material usually took on a pale gray or pale blue appearance, and stood up to the elements better than stone markers because they were less porous. These grave markers were actually hollow, and consisted of vertical panels held together by screws at the corners. It is said that outlaws sometimes took advantage of this fact, and hid stolen goods inside the tall, hollow monuments.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002106 — On Sep 07, 2019

Your white bronze is not the same as that developed by Monumental Bronze Co. Their cemetery monuments are made of 99% pure zinc that has been distilled from zinc ore. There is no nickel or copper in it. Also, it is interesting that your picture of cemetery markers doesn't have any MBC zinc monuments in it.

By anon341777 — On Jul 14, 2013

White bronze is a large class of Cu/Sn/Zn alloys. The actual composition depends on who gets the royalties. Electronics (especially outdoor connectors) use a lot of 'Trimetal' for the same reasons as listed above. Some common trade names are Miralloy, BBR2. In electronics, the composition is usually around 30-40 percent Sn, and 5-15 percent Zn. It is difficult to solder. One must use an active flux.

Trimetal is a very hard alloy. It cannot be cold-worked. It is also difficult to machine. It makes a simple anode for electroplating. Here, you can take an even cheaper metal, like brass, and form or machine it to whatever shape you need and then electroplate it with trimetal.

I have not seen white bronze / trimetal sinks. I can't imagine it would be a good surface because it will eventually scratch and expose the base material. Most metal sinks are steel.

To make mercury, go up into space and go supernova. Maybe there's a way to decay from uranium or something heavier. These days, mercury is mostly produced as an undesirable waste product in mining copper, silver, and other metals along with burning coal.

By anon257099 — On Mar 25, 2012

Looking at ancient Roman coins that are supposed to be bronze, scratching at an edge reveals a white silvery metal. It's not supposed to be silver, but maybe it is. A lot of old Romans reveal this. It also may be a form of the white bronze you've discussed. Do you know anything about such an alloy used in ancient Roman coins?

By anon152755 — On Feb 15, 2011

(1)how can one produce Mercury?

(2) how can one use mercury?

(3)how does Mercury come into existence?

By anon151805 — On Feb 11, 2011

Why isn't white bronze used as a substitute for silver jewelery and only as a coating? presumably it's an easy metal to cast, it's inexpensive and as you say it's attractive, so why isn't it being used instead of silver as a cheaper alternative?

By anon149321 — On Feb 03, 2011

What's involved in welding or soldering on white bronze?

By anon145372 — On Jan 23, 2011

question: i want to purchase a white bronze sink - what cleaning products should i avoid? someone said a window cleaning product turned this sink purple. dhxz

By anon75032 — On Apr 05, 2010

Very good article that would be complete if it gave the alloy's percentage composition of copper, zinc and tin. Thank you.

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